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Workers' compensation death benefits paid to surviving spouse

When a worker dies in a workplace accident death benefits are payable to his family. In Colorado and most states the rules are generally similar with respect to death benefits. A spouse will usually be required to submit a marriage certificate with the claim form. If the applicant turns out to be divorced from the decedent, work benefits will be denied. If a spouse receiving benefits remarries, the remaining payments will cease as of the date of remarriage.

Separation, however, does not usually defeat the widow's claim, especially if she remained dependent on the decedent up to his death. If there was a divorce, children of the decedent or certain dependent relatives may be eligible. Generally, if the widow was living with the decedent at the time of his death, and they were married, she'll have a clear right to collect. Under modern civil rights laws, the gender of the decedent and the surviving spouse are irrelevant.

If there is a surviving spouse and two or more dependent minor children, the maximum amount will be collectible. That would generally be the same percentage of the average weekly wage that the decedent would have collected if alive and disabled from a workplace accident. There are usually formulas in the state regulations that are applied for calculating the amount payable in any particular circumstance.

In a recent death case in Illinois a man who was applying siding to the side of a house fell about 11 feet to his death. The coroner ruled that the cause of death was skull and brain injuries. Only sketchy details were available initially, and it's unknown whether the decedent was survived by a spouse or other family. If so, the spouse will be best advised to file a claim petition for death benefits. There is a statute of limitations in most states for the filing of a death petition.

OSHA is investigating the events, as would be the case for a similar accident in Colorado. A death from a fall of that distance is somewhat unusual, but a direct impact with the skull on a concrete or other hard surface could result in death. This incident shows how vulnerable the head is to severe brain injury.

Source:, Coroner: Man who fell at work site likely died of head injuries, No author, Jan. 2, 2014

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